Original Research - Special Collection: New Landscapes in Identity

Some reflections on human identity in the Anthropocene

Ernst M. Conradie
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 3 | a6600 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i3.6600 | © 2021 Ernst M. Conradie | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 March 2021 | Published: 06 July 2021

About the author(s)

Ernst M. Conradie, Department of Religion and Theology, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa

Abstract

This article observes that both the similar and the dissimilar are of ethical importance in discourse on human identity. There is a need for a common humanity and to guard against domination in the name of difference – precisely by recognising the otherness of the other. This also applies to reflections on what it means to be human in the age of the human, namely the Anthropocene. A survey is offered of how this tension between the similar and the dissimilar plays itself out in the work of five theorists, namely Dipesh Chakrabarty, Clive Hamilton, Dona Harraway, Michel Serres and Kathryn Yusoff. On this basis, six tentative conclusions are offered: (1) Despite the appropriate ethical emphasis on difference and otherness, the quest for the universal in the particular cannot be readily abandoned. (2) Such a sensitivity for the universal in the particular needs to be extended to a recognition of the way in which an integrated earth system functions. (3) The ethical emphasis on difference and otherness should be extended to non-human animals. (4) Human dignity and the ‘integrity of creation’ are not necessarily inversely proportioned. (5) Relations may well have an ontological priority over individuals. (6) Identity need not be constituted by the distant past or the immediate presence as if continuity over time forms a guarantee for a sense of identity.

Contribution: This article explores a core question in discourse on the Anthropocene, namely ‘What does it mean to be human in the age of humans?’ It compares the views on human identity of five theorists, namely Dipesh Chakrabarty, Clive Hamilton, Dona Harraway, Michel Serres and Kathryn Yusoff and on this basis offers six observations to take the debate forward.


Keywords

Anthropocene; Dipesh Chakrabarty; Clive Hamilton; Dona Harraway; human identity; Michel Serres; Kathryn Yusoff

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